Florida currently has two highways with toll lanes, where drivers can pay anywhere from a quarter to $10 to drive, depending on the amount of traffic on the highway.
But journalist Eric Barton reports that in the next few years, "pretty much every major city in Florida" will have toll lanes.
Critics call them "Lexus lanes" for the rich. Supporters say they reduce traffic congestion.
"I use these lanes regularly here in South Florida, and often times I can afford the toll," Barton told Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson. "And I look over into the congested traffic on the otherside, and you pass work trucks and moms in minivans and you know there has to be a little bit of guilt about that," he said.
As Barton uncovered during his reporting with the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, the toll lane project has a number of conflicts:
"An analysis by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting has learned that the toll lane projects began thanks to state-funded reports produced by a think tank funded in part by toll lane developers. In addition, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad used to work for one of the state’s largest toll lane builders before approving billions of dollars in toll lane projects, some of which have gone to his former employer."
Barton says Scott's administration told him Prasad's prior position is not a conflict.
"They say that he isn't clouded by that," Barton said. "[They say] what he's doing is he's putting in lanes that move traffic quicker and create new revenue sources for the state. Both things are probably true, and so it sort of depends on whether you believe someone can be influenced by their former employer."
Barton says toll lane projects are developed without much public input, and nobody really knows exactly how much these toll lanes will cost. Despite the unknown price tag, the toll lanes are set to be one of the largest infrastructure projects in Florida history.
"Some of the projects the state builds it and then collects the tolls, and so it goes to revenue for the Department of Transportation. Other projects they give it to the company. The compnay builds the toll lanes and then gets to operate them," Barton said. "There's enough money to be made in this that major banks are funding this."
- Florida Center for Investigative Reporting: Florida's Toll Lane Boom
- Here & Now: A Train Project Could Be Third Rail In Florida Race
- Eric Barton, freelance journalist who wrote "Florida's Toll Lane Boom" for the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. He tweets @ericbarton.
This segment aired on October 17, 2014.
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